For Stephanie Busari, moving back to Nigeria was a big bold bet predicated upon her passion for telling authentic African stories, and her role as CNN’s Supervising Producer for Africa. In our first interview for 2018, Stephanie takes us through her journey to becoming an internationally renowned journalist, the way society is impacted by news and why persistence is key.
First, we must say well-done on your great work as the CNN Africa Supervising Producer. 5 years down the line, how would you rate the journey?
The journey has been a very interesting one that has evolved considerably. I am entering my 10th year at CNN and I have held a variety of roles in that time. The one thing that has remained constant is my passion for telling African stories. It’s one of the reasons I was sent by CNN to come to Nigeria to lead their coverage of the contain stories. I meet too many dynamic and talented people that I want the world to know about. The journey to getting here has been fulfilling with a lot of hard work and persistence. I am grateful to have a job that I love and a real opportunity to create significant impact.
You’re one of our most inspiring women on TV. How did you get into the media and
Thank you. I got into media during my university years when I carried out an internship with a local newspaper in York, England. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist so I channelled all my energies into achieving that goal. I worked on that newspaper for eight weeks and was thrilled to see my name in print. My big break came working for Daily Mirror newspaper in UK as a trainee reporter. I was there for four years and I got to work on many high profile stories and court cases and live in many cities across England. This training has been invaluable in my career but it is at CNN that I have really grown up as a journalist. Telling the type of significant stories that I am passionate about.
For 3 years now, you have passionately followed up on the #BringBackourGirlsCampaign. You’ve met with some of these girls and you’ve witnessed their transformations. How has the overall experience impacted you?
The story of the Chibok girls is one that will always be with me. I always empathised with them as a Nigerian girl and I have been quite alarmed since covering this story from the start that some people think it’s a hoax. I have always been determined to tell their story and in doing so, got quite close to some of their parents and relatives. It has been great seeing their transformation, like Amina Ali who I met and interviewed when she first escaped. The change in her from then to now has been remarkable. I will always follow their story but I think it’s important that they are now given a chance to heal from their trauma and retreat from the limelight. They have been through a lot and I’m sure they would not like to be forever known as the Chibok girls.
Who is Stephanie Busari, away from the media and her television persona?
I am a mum and I consider that to be my most important role actually. My daughter is fun and I love to hang out with her, she keeps me on my toes with all her questions and her outspoken nature! I also love to swim and recently took lessons to learn how to do it properly, I love to cook for friends and host dinners. I love art also and since moving to Lagos, I have fallen in love with Nigerian art and I’m gradually expanding my collection to other parts of the continent. I love fashion and actually wanted to be a fashion journalist at one point very early on but that’s not really my calling, so I now indulge my love of fashion through my personal style, which is classic and elegant with a twist.
By now, you must have had an interaction with quite a portion of the Nigerian female community. What would you call that one thing that strikes you about the Nigerian woman?
I’m forever in awe of Nigerian women. The fearlessness. The resourcefulness. The tenacity. Nigerian women rock! The can-do spirit and general tenacity in the face of adversity is something to be admired. From the market woman selling her wares to the women at the height of their careers, I am full of admiration of how Nigerian women manage to make things happen, sometimes with very little.
I also love how some Nigerian women are embracing social media to really make their mark and showcase their talents to the world. Also, it’s a myth that women don’t help themselves here, it’s a lie that women should definitely not buy into.
We couldn’t help laughing out loud at a recent Instagram clip of yours where you got interrupted by some loud bus horns right in the course of filming. Really, how have you been able to fit into the crazy hustle and bustle of Lagos?
I’m a city girl so I love hustle and bustle but Lagos is definitely the busiest place I’ve ever lived. It’s just full on and on the go. But I always say there’s something about this place that just grabs you and sucks you in. The energy is off the charts and I think that is what attracts people here. I love living in Lagos but I do need breaks from it at times.
Having a spot in CNN is quite the goal for a number of young women eyeing journalism as a career. Can you share with us some tips that contributed to where you are now?
For anyone that wants to work in the media, I would say show enthusiasm by building up a portfolio using online blogs/videos etc. Be determined and persistent in going after what you want. There was no social media or a lot of the internet tools available now when I was starting out, so I would encourage anyone who is interested in the media to make the most of them. One of my former interns sent us a CV he had designed as a webpage. He stood out head and shoulders above the rest, got the internship and is now running a major CNN project, so always think about how you can think outside the box.
Practice your craft daily. Watch those you admire, follow their steps, and emulate them. But you must start. Create your own opportunities. I have been fortunate but I have also used my talent to create my own luck.
Talking about the whole idea of CNN setting up a digital space in Nigeria, how did the idea for the project come about?
CNN is trying to reach the next generation of audiences who are not necessarily watching content on TV but on mobile. Nigeria is also a key market for us, we have a lot of followers and an engaged audience here. We want to engage with the audience where they are, on mobile, on social and also for those who are not connected online, on television. So it’s a multi-faceted, multi-platform approach using digital storytelling tools to tell African stories in a new way.
Oftentimes, the western media tends to be biased in projecting Africa to the world. What
positive stories of Africa do you intend to tell via CNN?
I have worked at CNN for the past 10 years and I’m proud to say we have always been committed to telling positive African stories. In that time, we have had at least four primetime feature shows every week on CNN focusing on African youth and culture, traditions and heritage, business and its entrepreneurs with shows like African Voices, African Start-Up, Marketplace Africa, Inside Africa etc. CNN is very committed to telling these stories and more and sending me to Lagos is testament to that commitment. Of course, we also tell stories that are not so positive but we are a news network and we report the news as it happens. We must tell the stories we find.
You were one of Leading Ladies Africa’s 100 most inspiring women in Nigeria. How does it feel to know that you are one of the amazing women impacting the younger generation?
It’s a great honour to know that I can inspire the younger generation through my work. I am also thrilled to be named one of 100 most inspiring women in Nigeria. It is a role that is very important to me. I believe firmly in good role models. I have been blessed with so many in my life and I like to pay it forward in whatever way I can.
Name three women who inspire you and why?
I have to say my mum is my number one inspiration. She’s a fighter, fearless and so brave. Nothing daunts her. She may have doubts but she picks herself up and does it afraid. I have overcome so many challenges and done so many new things his year by doing it afraid. In fact, all of the women in my family have been incredibly inspirational, can-do women. Both my grandmothers had such a great work ethic and I learned a lot from them. My daughter is also very inspirational to me. She’s 7 but very confident and knows her mind. She stands up for herself in ways I would never have dreamt of when I was her age! I was definitely quiet as a mouse and a very shy child. Beyond these women, people like Oprah and Shonda Rhimes are just amazing examples of women who have confounded expectations about who they are and what they could become. There are so many names to mention, to be honest!
You took a very brave step, moving to Nigeria with your daughter – did you feel any anxiety, and how did you deal with that?
This is an example of doing it afraid for me. I had anxieties more about my daughter than anything else. ‘would she cope?’ would she enjoy it? Would she miss London and her friends too much?’ The thing is children are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. She’s made many new friends and is enjoying learning more about her culture. She even asked me for Yoruba lessons recently, so I’m not worried about her fitting in anymore.
How have you settled into Nigeria – especially Lagos Living? And how do you deal with the challenges? Power, transportation, etc?
I believe I have settled quite well. The work I’m doing here has been so embraced and people have been generally very helpful. I believe that challenges are everywhere, even living in London, I had challenges, albeit different ones.
I came to Nigeria determined to make the most of an amazing career opportunity in a place that is home in my heart. You have to roll with the punches. Everything is about the mindset, I find. I choose to remain positive, even in the face of challenges. It’s not easy but it’s an attitude I find gets me through tough times.
Your TED talk on the dangers of fake news is a topic that certainly applies to almost everyone; how can the world move forward in creating and sharing more honest narratives?
I think people really need to take the time to verify what they are sharing. That is so important. I have seen people share things innocently believing that it is true but that is how fake news is spread, through inattention and lack of verifying. Check that it is from a credible news source before sharing something online. Or use a website like Snopes, they are excellent at helping to find out if something is true or not.
The work I do at CNN requires a lot of rigorous sourcing and attribution. I’m always asking my team, “How do we know this?” “Who told you?” “Why did they tell you?”
Everything that appears on television goes through very senior editors who go through the script line by line to ensure it’s accurate. I am very proud of that editorial rigour at CNN and it’s one I apply to every piece of information I am given. More of us should do that too.
Words of advice for young women toeing your path in life?
Your life journey will take you on many different paths but you will end up where you are supposed to in the end. Trust the process. Pray always and don’t lose your humanity or compromise who you are in a bid to get to the top.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series which focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to [email protected] and we just might feature her.